This year, our country has faced a host of challenges, most notably overcoming the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression.
Working together, President Barack Obama and Congress have made significant progress, and I believe we will accomplish even more in the coming year. Here are a few examples of what we achieved over the past year.
First, we passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to prevent a rapidly deepening recession from becoming a full-fledged depression. This legislation helped stabilize our economy by focusing on job creation, tax relief and help for states in economic crisis, like California.
The bill kept thousands of teachers, firefighters and police at work on the Central and South coasts and around the country.
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It is creating new jobs quickly by jump-starting important local projects like the rebuilding of the Santa Maria levee, which means hundreds of good jobs in our community.
It is also creating jobs while investing in projects critical to our long-term economic growth, like moving to electronic medical records and modernizing our outdated electricity grid.
This legislation also provided $250 rebate checks to seniors and disabled veterans and is still providing a tax cut to 95 percent of American workers. It also provided the unemployed with health insurance expenses and extended benefits.
To help our struggling housing market, the bill established an $8,000 tax credit for new homebuyers, which we have since extended and expanded to help existing homeowners as well.
The positive impact of the recovery act is clear. In January, our economy was losing more than 700,000 jobs a month.
In November, job losses were down to about 10,000. That’s not success, but it is clearly progress.
The House has already moved to build on that progress by passing legislation to redirect $75 billion in Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) funds from Wall Street to Main Street so we can fund critical transportation and infrastructure projects and continue providing relief to families hurt by the recession. Next year, Congress will continue to work to rebuild our economy, create more jobs and strengthen our financial regulatory system to prevent this type of crisis from occurring again.
Also significant, we passed important legislation to prevent another financial crisis, protect consumers from predatory lending practices and address the weakened housing market.
This month, the House of Representatives passed the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act to strengthen oversight of financial markets and end taxpayer-funded bailouts for “too big to fail” financial institutions. The Senate is working on similar legislation, and we hope to send a bill to the president next year.
The Credit Cardholders’ Bill of Rights, signed into law this summer, establishes new protections for consumers and bans unfair rate increases, abusive fees and unreasonable penalties. The Helping Families Save Their Homes Act curtailed the foreclosure crisis by providing incentives to lenders, servicers and homeowners to modify troubled home loans.
The House additionally passed landmark legislation to build a clean energy economy and address climate change. The American Clean Energy and Security Act would create millions of domestic clean energy jobs, lower consumer energy costs and address the health and environmental threats posed by climate change. The Senate is currently working on similar legislation, and we hope to send a bill to the president next year.
Finally, we’ve made historic progress on health insurance reform legislation.
Last month, the House passed the Affordable Health Care for America Act, which would ensure all Americans have access to affordable health care coverage.
It would also prohibit insurance companies from denying coverage because of patients’ pre-existing medical conditions or refusing to cover consumers’ medical expenses after a serious injury or diagnosis.
It ends “gender rating” policies that charge women higher premiums, removes co-pays for preventive care services and closes the Medicare Part D “doughnut hole.” The Senate is expected pass similar legislation before Christmas, and I look forward to President Obama enacting this historic legislation in 2010.
We have made enormous progress in 2009, but important work remains.
While full economic recovery is still a ways off, we are heading in the right direction, and I am confident in our ability to succeed and prosper. I wish you and your family a wonderful holiday season and a happy new year!
Lois Capps, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, represents California’s 23rd Congressional District, which includes portions of San Luis Obispo County.